History of biomanufacturing and life sciences in Canada

Canada has a proud history of achievement in the areas of science and technology, and the field of biomanufacturing and life sciences is no exception. Over time, the biomanufacturing and life sciences industry has declined in Canada, as the country's competitive advantage in other areas changed the economic landscape. The Government of Canada is partnering with industry to help rebuild our domestic biomanufacturing and life sciences sector, ensuring that Canada will remain at the cutting edge of this industry far into the future.

Important achievements in Canada's biomanufacturing and life sciences industry

  • 2021: The Government of Canada launched the Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy, which presents a long-term vision to protect Canadians against future epidemics and pandemics.
  • 2020: Dr. Michael Houghton, professor at the University of Alberta, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
  • 2011: Dr. Chil-Yong Kang and his team at the University of Western Ontario develops a preventive vaccine for HIV that is currently in Phase 2 and Phase 3 clinical trials.
  • 2002: NRC immunologist Dr. Harry Jennings develops a highly effective synthetic vaccine, NeisVac-C, that protects against meningococcal meningitis.
  • 1995: Dr. Pieter Cullis and his team use lipid nanoparticles for gene therapy drugs that use nucleic acids (like RNA). The lipid nanoparticles form a protective bubble around the medicine so that it can be delivered to cells safely and effectively.
  • 1993: Dr. Michael Smith, from the University of British Columbia, wins the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his innovative DNA reprogramming method called site-directed mutagenesis. This method revolutionizes genetic engineering by creating an easier way to introduce site-specific mutations into genes.
  • 1989: Dr. Bernard Belleau, working at McGill University, develops the antiviral drug 3TC (Lamivudine). This drug becomes a critical component of Hepatitis B and HIV therapies, and is an important tool in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
  • 1983: Working at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto, Dr. Tak Wah Mak discovers the structure of the T-Cell receptor, a key to the function of the human immune system. He has since led a team that has produced 20 patented molecules for use in drug development.
  • 1981: Allelix is formed as Canada’s first biotechnology company.
  • 1967: Connaught Laboratories develops a freeze-dried smallpox vaccine which serves as the international standard for the global smallpox eradication program. In May 1980 the World Health Organization declares that smallpox has been globally eradicated.
  • 1963: James Till & Earnest McCulloch discover stem cells (a single type of cell that has the ability to regenerate any kind of human body tissue) at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto.
  • 1955: Canadian R and D is critical to the development, evaluation and production of the Salk polio vaccine. This included the safe cultivation of the poliovirus, using Medium 199, and an incubation process called the "Toronto Method," that increased quantities of the poliovirus for the trial. The Salk vaccine is licensed in North America in 1955, followed by a massive immunization campaign.
  • 1941: Connaught Laboratories develops the first combined vaccines to immunize for diphtheria, pertussis (aka whooping cough) and tetanus (DPT).
  • 1922: Frederick Banting and Charles Best, under the leadership of John Macleod, perform animal studies at the University of Toronto that prove insulin is the hormone involved in glucose metabolism, a critical breakthrough in the treatment of diabetes. In 1923, Banting and colleagues receive Canada's first Nobel Prize in the category Physiology or Medicine. Learn more about Banting and Best on the Historica Canada YouTube channel.

Source: Innovative Medicines Canada: Health Research Foundation